Families protest in Modesto to end police brutality
About two dozen family members, friends and advocates for police reform gathered early Saturday afternoon at one of Modesto’s busiest intersections to repeat their call for justice in the July 14 fatal police shooting of Paul Chavez.
Protesters gathered at the northwest corner of Brigsmore and McHenry avenues near Brigsmore Square Mall.
The demonstration was not only about Chavez’s death. It was part of a National Day of Protest held every Oct. 22 in communities across the U.S. since 1996 to demand an end to police brutality, according to the group’s website. www.october22.org.
Protesters — including Kimberly Ritchie, wife of Councilman Chris Ritchie — demanded justice for all those who have died at the hands of law enforcement across the region.
“It just keeps happening,” said Antioch resident Bella Collins, who was at Saturday’s event with her mother, Cassandra Quinta-Collins. “When it happens to you, you hope it doesn’t happen to another family, and it continues. We are here to support the quest for a more accountable, impartial and transparent system.”
Collins’ brother and Quinto-Collins’ son, Angelo Quinto, 30, died at the hands of Antioch police on Dec. 23, 2020. Collins said her brother was experiencing a mental health crisis when the family called 911 seeking help. She said the officers choked him while restraining him.
In September, the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office announced it would not file charges against the four officers in Quinto’s death. That same month, California Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office announced it would review the decision. media reports.
Modesto resident Darlene Ruiz was also at the protest. Then-Modesto Police Officer Joseph Lamantia shot and killed Ruiz’s son, Trevor Seaver, on December 29, 2020. an unarmed 29-year-old ran away Seaver’s family called 911 because he was having a mental health crisis.
Lamantia was fired from his job and charged with premeditated murder in March 2021. His attorney said at the time, “We strongly believe that this was a completely justified officer-involved shooting.” The criminal investigation is ongoing. Lamantia has been involved in five officer-involved shootings in his dozen years as a Modesto officer. Four were fatal.
“We’re here to talk about what happened to my husband,” said Paul Chavez’s widow, Brittany Estrella-Chavez. “… We’re also here with Trevor Seaver’s mom. She supports us and we are here to support her. We’re trying to get to know other people’s stories (of police brutality) and let them know they’re not alone.”
On July 14, Chavez’s father-in-law called 911 and reported that Chavez was drunk, trying to break into the house and threatening his life. a video report was released by the police. He called again to say that Chavez had received a hitch with a trailer. The video report included footage from the officers’ body cameras.
Officer Sergio Valencia fired a stun gun at Chavez as he held the towbar at his side and walked slowly toward the officers. Chavez disobeyed repeated commands to drop the hook and pulled the prongs of the stun gun from his body. Officer Sam Muncie shot Chavez twice with his firearm. The shooting happened in a neighbor’s yard near the home of Chavez’s relatives on Entrada Way.
Grab the deadly weapon
Police Chief Brandon Gillespie said in a video statement that the California Department of Justice has a duty to investigate fatal shootings of unarmed civilians by officers. He said the Justice Department has reviewed the shooting and determined the hook was a deadly weapon and will not investigate.
Chavez’s family members and supporters said it took Muncie just 23 seconds to shoot Chavez after officers confronted him. They said Chavez was drunk and not threatening. They called Muncie’s actions “do or die” policing.
Both officers were placed on leave after the shooting. Valencia, a four-year veteran of the department, returned to duty a week later, and Muncie, a nine-year veteran of the department, returned to duty three weeks later, a police department spokeswoman said in a previous story.
Family and friends of Chavez protested at the Modesto Police Department and the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office. They spoke at city council meetings demanding that Muncie be fired and prosecuted.
Family and friends described Chavez as a devoted husband and father of three young boys. He worked as a truck driver for Smart Alternative Fuels for nearly seven years, collecting used oil from restaurants and other businesses. Estrella-Chavez said he had struggled with alcohol and had recently relapsed before the shooting.
“I am here to support the families of Paul Chavez and Trevor Seaver and hope that our state will make the right decision to address the current issue of police brutality,” said Kimberly Ritchie.
In June 2021, the city council launched a police reform called “Forward Together”. In August of this year, the “Forward Together” committee presented its recommendations to the council on the creation of a public supervisory board and hire an independent police auditor.
Ritchie said she supported the reforms, but said they had taken too long to implement. “We are dealing with life and death situations,” she said. “Moving at the speed of government is not enough.”
Altar in memory of the dead
The City Council is expected to vote Dec. 13 on the next steps to implement the Forward Together recommendations. A city official said that with council approval, parts of the recommendations could be implemented as early as spring 2023.
Saturday’s protesters planned to drive through Modesto later that day. They would write tributes to Chávez and Siver and demands for reform on the windows of their cars and trucks. The caravan was expected to end downtown, where Dia de Los Muertos was being celebrated.
Protesters set up an altar at 10th and J streets to honor the nearly two dozen people who have died at the hands of police from here to the Bay Area and Sacramento.
Muncie was involved in two fatal officer-involved shootings.
Prosecutors ruled that Muncie and Officer Lewis Sargent were justified when they shot 42-year-old Spencer Herkt at a Modesto apartment complex on Jan. 30, 2017. Prosecutors said Herkt continued to resist after being tasered, fought with officers and hit one on the head with a 16-inch glass bong.
Police said officers responded to a domestic disturbance call. According to police, the caller said her husband, who did not appear, was violating his restraining order, was under the influence and was damaging her vehicle.
An update on the police department’s investigation into Chavez’s shooting was not available Thursday. The prosecutor’s office is also conducting an investigation. Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office spokesman John Gould said in an email that “the case is still pending and is expected to be completed before the end of the year.”